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6 Common Mistakes Made by Airtable Users

We've observed some Airtable mistakes made by beginner, intermediate or expert users

by Juliet Edjere · December 2021
6 Common Mistakes Made by Airtable Users
6 Common Mistakes Made by Airtable Users

Contents

    We've observed some Airtable mistakes made by beginner, intermediate or expert users. This article identifies these mistakes and provides optimal suggestions so you get the best out of Airtable. Getting familiar with new software can be daunting. Platforms are sometimes not used in the way they are designed, or in other instances, not utilized to their full capacity.

    Like any other low-code platform, the learning curve with Airtable can be quite steep. Airtable is a spreadsheet and a database hybrid that streamlines your workflows and reduces time spent on repetitive tasks. The spreadsheet, like Google Sheets, is organized by records. Each Airtable base has tables with a number of fields.

    You can generate forms like with Survey Monkey, utilize the Kanban board functionality like with Trello or work with customized calendars.

    We've observed some Airtable mistakes made by beginner, intermediate or expert users. This article identifies these mistakes and provides optimal suggestions so you get the best out of Airtable.

    Missing {curly brackets} around field references

    The first mistake we've observed is not using curly brackets when referencing fields in formulas.

    Based on common usage, the top reason for this mistake is because of the exception it accommodates. Airtable generally allows you to skip the curly brackets when referencing single words with no spaces. It's easy to get comfortable with this style of referencing that you forget to reference properly, resulting in an error.

    Using curly braces alongside whitespace indentation, you have no worries that your formula will break and no questions about what fields are called.

    Clearly, it is okay to use without curly braces with a single field name. However, it is best practice to use curly braces for single and multiple statements, otherwise the statement within the "if" condition gets executed wrong.

    Not using the right relationships

    You need the fundamentals of an Airtable base to build one. Another common mistake is not using relationships to link related concepts together.

    Airtable is a relational database with unique information in each row, especially with automation. You can create a relationship is between two tables.

    We've identified the different types of relationships between entities using linked record fields, so you can avoid making the mistake yourself.

    One-to-one

    This is the simplest kind of relationship. Simply put, one field is directly liked to another field. Each record is matched with one counterpart.

    For example, with this list of people’s names, each person has only one LinkedIn profile link, and each LinkedIn profile link is linked to one person. This is a one-to-one relationship represented using two fields in a single table in the Airtable base.

    One-to-many

    This is a more common use case than the one-to-one relationship.

    For example, if you have a list of organizations and a list of employee contacts, each person can be employed at one organization at a time, but each company can employ one or more people. These two fields will be split into two tables to store and reference information relevant to each field.

    The details of each contact like the name, email, phone number and title will be included in the employee contacts table. The organization table could include information about the industry and its size.

    Using linked record fields, you could then set it up so that every record in the employee table is linked to one organization record, and every record in the organization table is linked to one or more records in the employee table.

    Many-to-many

    With a many-to-many relationship, we'll use a digital video production example in linked record fields across two tables.

    You have a list of shots, and a list of props and equipment—each shot may have one or more props and equipment, and each prop and equipment may have been used in multiple shots. In this case, you have many shots related to multiple props and equipment.

    Every record in the shots table is linked to one or more props and equipment records, and every record in the props and equipment table is linked to one or more records in the shots table.

    These records could also be on a single, self-linking record field when all entities are of the same class. A one-to-one, one-to-many or many-to-many relationship could be tracked on a single table. This takes away linked records across 2 or 3 tables.

    Sharing collaborator privileges to external users

    Another key mistake being made is sharing access to the entire base to external users.

    Airtable presents multiple sharing options. You can either share a table view, share access to all bases within the workspace or access to all tables in a base.

    Adding a workspace collaborator via email or link will give them access to all bases within this workspace.

    If you give a person (or people) creator privileges on the base, they have access to re-arrange things, change the filters for a view, or change formulas.

    Instead of inviting collaborators to the entire workspace or base, create a shareable view link. By sharing a calendar view, you can send the link to anyone, embed it on a website, or sync it to an external calendar. This limits viewers to only seeing the records in the shared calendar.

    Incorrectly formatting (parentheses) around functions in your formula

    Formulas and computed fields are the engines driving most of Airtable's functions.

    You may run across some errors, like #ERROR, NaN or invalid formula, when building formulas or using one of Airtable's computed fields. Unfortunately, Airtable does not display any more information about the source of the error, so you'll need to troubleshoot to find the source.

    A vital component of these functions are sets of parentheses. Omitting parentheses around each function in the formula can render formulas inoperative. This could give an #ERROR or invalid formula warning. While this mistake is not peculiar to Airtable, it translates to Airtable use.

    Here’s an example of an uneven number of parentheses and space after the opening parenthesis of the IF statement:

    IF (
    AND(
    {Cost Per Person},
    Attendees
    ),
    {Cost Per Person}*Attendees
    

    Correctly formatted:

    IF(
    AND(
    {Cost Per Person},
    Attendees
    ),
    {Cost Per Person}*Attendees
    )
    

    Not tracking activities for effective collaboration

    What do you do when you have something to note to a specific team member or the whole team? Obviously, you can send an email or a Slack message to reference the Airtable field.

    A better way to do this is to collaborate using the comments and revision history section provided by Airtable.

    Depending on your Airtable plan, you could get 2 weeks, 6 months, 1 year or 3 years revision and base snapshot history. You can go back in time to track the changes made to records and restore your base to a previous state.

    To view comments or changes to a single record, expand the record by highlighting and clicking on Space on your keyboard. Inside the base, you can collaborate with your team and leave notes.

    Anyone who is 'watching' the record will get a notification. Alternatively, use @ mention to send mobile or email push notifications to the recipient directly.

    Anyone one who is 'watching' the record will get a notification. Alternatively use @ mention to send mobile or email push notification to the recipient directly.

    Not setting permissions for fields & tables

    Another top mistake is not restricting collaborators to only seeing and editing their own records. This is especially needed when you have clients who need to update their records regularly.

    The default Airtable view in every table is a collaborative view. Every collaborator on the base can see and use that view.

    You can set permissions for fields and tables by creating a personal view or prevent creating new records in the linked table. A collaborator with creator, editor, or commenter permissions can create views that only they can configure, and that is hidden from other collaborators’ views.

    Every collaborator involved in the project can take their own unique view of the data without disrupting collaboration.

    Users on personal and locked view can still create links to existing records, but not create new records. However, limiting table permission is only available to Pro subscribers only.

    You could alternatively integrate a portal system like MiniExtensions where users can share records with people within or outside of your organization without giving them full access to Airtable. Viewers are limited to only seeing and updating some parts of the records.

    Key Takeaways

    There are so many possiblities with Airtable. It fuses the functionality of a spreadsheet with the storage capacity of a database. With the many opportunities it presents, it's easy to make some mistakes.

    We've highlighted these errors, most of which we've made in the past as well, to allow you and your team to save time by reducing the overall margin of error.

    Another less likely mistake we've observed is manually editing tables and fields instead of using formula, automation and scripts to fully utilize the low-code platform.

    Juliet Edjere@juliethiri
    Juliet is a content and product strategist. She is passionate about products, technology and people, particularly building scalable solutions on top of no-code tools.

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